How speaking before thinking cost me my job…and career!
This was all a long time ago. So although in my own mind my recollection is very clear, it’s entirely possible that the events were slightly different in reality. No matter. This is my story; it’s what I remember happening.
Back in those days I was working for a large consulting practice. One of the largest in the world in fact. And the particular office I was working in had very few consultants – but a lot of accountants. Because of the work I did, I needed a private office, but at that time, the only people in the building with private offices were partners in the accounting practice. Except for me. In an hierarchical organisation this caused considerable – but largely unspoken – consternation.
My role required a great deal of thinking, some creativity and a lot of planning. So I had had a large white board installed in my office so that I could use Mind Maps® to provide me with a visual overview of various projects I was involved in. I had always found Mind Maps valuable and although I realised that not everyone liked them, they made me much more productive.
On the fateful day in question, I was absorbed in my work, exploring – on a Mind Map – some inter-related issues on a performance improvement project I was working on.
“What the hell are you doing?” I jumped as I hadn’t noticed I had company.
“I’m thinking, what does it look like I’m doing?” I replied, rather too quickly, but irritated (to say the least) by the intrusion.
“Well it doesn’t look like thinking to me and anyway you’re not paid to think!”
“Go away, you’re not my boss and I’m busy.”
To be fair, the exact words may not have been “go away” but I’m sure you get the picture.
I carried on working, although a part of my brain was wondering whether I had been a little too direct and what would happen next. It would be fair to say that it was almost certainly the first time that that partner had ever been told to “go away” in that way!
I didn’t have to wonder for long. Two minutes, maybe three, passed and my phone rang. It was my boss, a consultancy partner based in another office.
“Tell me Clive, are you Mind Mapping at the moment?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“You know how I know!”
“True, I do.”
“Did you tell him to ‘go away’?”
“Yes, but he was disturbing me and I’m busy – you know what it’s like.”
“You could have got rid of him without causing a diplomatic incident and undoing six months work on inter-departmental cooperation. Couldn’t you?”
“I guess, sorry.”
“Will you go and apologise to him please?”
“Only if he apologises for disturbing me.”
“You know that’s not how it works in this firm, Clive.”
Well, the rest of the story does become a little convoluted. I did eventually apologise, after a fashion. But it was probably too little and too late.
The incident got me thinking about whether I wanted to carry on working in that particular firm. And that got me wondering about whether I wanted to stay in consultancy. That train of thought eventually led me to considering the idea of starting my own business; an idea that grew until I became involved in setting up Illumine Training a few years later, back in 1996.
I was reminded of this incident and its consequences when we recently launched our newest verbal communication skills course, Think Before You Speak™. The course is all about how to respond in the moment when faced with an unexpected question or challenge. A lot of us ‘shoot from the hip’ or panic, or fail to communicate effectively in these situations. We don’t think about what we want to say nor how we can say it most effectively. Doing so can make a massive difference.
On reflection, I could have done with the things we teach on this course, a quarter of a century ago – but better late than never! On that day, had I taken a moment to engage my brain before responding, the outcome – both on that day – and consequently – may have been very different!
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